Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beauty in Sports

The theme from Wimbledon always gives me a catch in my chest. In the early years of my enthusiasm I would wear white and get up early singing along trying my best to sound like a fanfare trumpet. Long before I knew anything about endorphins giving us pleasure for what has survival value, I knew that watching tennis was good for me. Seeing something so well done is exhilarating, a stimulus to higher achievement. Mirror neurons get a healthy workout, reflecting the facial expressions of concentration and focus, the body language that pushes the envelope of physical capability. The positive feelings we experience show that we’re meant to push our abilities. We understand and participate in the international language of gesture. When players show frustration, it’s a sign they’re taking it personally, have lost the sense of their mission. It doesn’t take ESP to see that’s not a winning attitude. We know what it feels like and how it can drag us down.
Watching Wimbledon is a superlative visual pleasure, tennis in its most jaw-dropping beauty, on grass and framed by the elegant English aesthetic. With crowds gathered to witness the best tennis in the world, it is the level where sports can be high art. We’re drawn to the style of the player that expresses something our soul yearns to reinforce. Everyone has their own expression of excellence. I don’t tend to root for a particular player until they clearly deserve to win. The ones I like best have to do with their style and attitude toward the game, how they handle setbacks and the winning shots of their opponents, staying focused when things aren’t going their way. Marion Bartoli drew me in with her earnest determination, her movements both balletic and fierce. Then there’s the fact that she beat Serena Williams, a tremendous player who only a few years back inspired me to call people up and say they should turn it on immediately. She looked like sculpture in motion. Her sister Venus was even more graceful in her heyday. When sports becomes art there are no wasted motions, the grace and attunement can only be achieved with high level skills pushed to their limits. It has so many followers because of our attraction to what we admire. Not only does it show us what “the zone” looks like, but through our inner mirroring, what it feels like as well.
The enjoyment for the spectator is not just about the competition the but seeing the sport taken to new levels, to feel that heart swelling admiration for the hard work and intense discipline it takes to get there that stimulates the best in ourselves. It’s the mindfulness that a game requires that draws attention around the channeling of pure life force and makes us feel more fully alive. If you haven’t experienced what watching tennis can make you feel, give it a try this weekend. The Finals are Saturday (Women’s) and Sunday (Men’s), 9am, NBC.

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